Google’s Not a Library, But So What?

Siva responds to my post – there’s a lot to chew on there, but I want to focus on one point here.

I do support Google Print because it will provide public
benefits.  However, my support for Google here has nothing to do
with idealization of
Google.  I think any company should be able to do what it’s
doing. 

In fact, it’s my hope that others will – so far as I know, the libraries have cut a non-exclusive deal, and other companies
are interested in getting into this space.  Google’s responsible
to its shareholders, but it’s also responsive to consumers and the
market.  Other companies will compete to provide consumers with
the most useful version of this service.  Siva seems to worry
about the interaction between Google Print and Google’s closed search
algorithm, privacy policy, and potentially restricting some uses. But
if consumers don’t like that, a competitor can hopefully offer them a different
service.

I’m more concerned with copyright holders having such an extensive
exclusive right that they get to control who can to create a
Google Print-like service.  A Google loss will choke off
competition.  In many cases, the economic inefficiencies of copyright
as monopoly are worth the trade-off for greater production of creative
works.  But not in all cases, and I’d say not in this one for
several plausible reasons, most importantly because the potential
injury to copyright holders is minute, the potential benefit to them is
significant, and the potential public benefit is even greater.

Can the market satisfy all our public policy concerns?  No. 
But Google can be a private company and still fufill public policy
objectives.

Is this an area where it’d be worth supporting non-profit
library-based
efforts?  Sure.  But that doesn’t conflict with supporting
Google either.   I support libraries buying and lending out
movies to
increase public access to culture, but I’m glad that
Blockbuster and Netflix offer a similar (and superior) service.

Siva thinks Google will lose and do harm, but that’s really distinct
from this issue of Google versus libraries and whether they ought to
lose.  Regardless,  I’ve said my peace about that issue, too, and I have trouble seeing how  it’s
“wishful thinking” to think Google can win (or at least lose and not do
grave harm), while believing that libraries would be able to provide
this service is realistic.  At this stage, it seems like
Google and others are the most likely to provide this sort of
service.  I am concerned about “what’s
best for culture, democracy, and the Internet” – I just think that
companies can also play a role in fulfilling public objectives on
those scores.